I am in the throes of sifting through an accumulation of teaching files and notes, as well as stacks of pictures, posters and papers. The time has come to really let go and to make space for other interests. This tedious – and rather dusty – process reminds me of the many hours I have spent preparing lessons and notes. I recall too that I spent even more time marking assignments.

Ideally, I would have preferred discussing issues with individual pupils. The pressure of limited classroom time, the syllabus, the needs of other children in the class, as well as extra-mural activities seldom allowed for this. I turned to marking as a means of one-to-one communication, using assignments as a means of showing how various improvements could enhance its readability; pointing out errors and how to avoid them; and always finding some aspect to praise, no matter how poor the final mark might be.

Marking a stack of assignments often saw me burning the midnight oil for I believed that work should be returned at the most 48 hours after submission if my comments were to be taken seriously. I also wanted those who wished to act upon them to be able to apply their understanding to their next assignment.

Positive feedback is encouraging, and a quick turnaround is part of that. How you couch your criticism is also important if you wish to encourage a child to improve. It is because my marking was really a ‘conversation’ of sorts, that I usually eschewed the traditional red pen in favour of using a pencil or other coloured pens – all softer on the eye. Rather than simply placing an impatient cross next to an incorrect answer, I tended to point out where / how the error might have been prevented.

It comes as no surprise that none of my children opted to become a teacher of English!

Among the pages of used paper is this one – as anonymous to me as it is to you, for I recognise neither handwriting.

It set me thinking: to my mind, a teacher should model the good expression – including sentence structure – expected in an assignment, as part of the hidden curriculum by which we transmit norms and values. For this reason the volley of simple sentences used in the comment is jarring – their only redeeming feature is that they express positive aspects of the child’s writing. The apology might have been appreciated, but how can a teacher have forgotten to mark an assignment? I hope that the appreciation of effort put “into your piece” might have assuaged the child’s feelings and made up for what seems to have been a lengthy delay.

I am a harsh critic. To me this comment smacks of insincerity and routine reactions quickly noted down. If the child put “so much effort” into the article, surely he or she deserves an overall appreciation of it?


    • Dit hang af of die kinders hulle eksamenvraestelle weer sal sien. As hulle dit wel terugkry is dit die moeite werd om hulle kan help waar jy kan. Soos jy weet: goeie nasien werk kan baie lank neem!


      • Ann, ek hou skoon asem op terwyl ek merk!!!!! Al hierdie emosies wat hierdie kinders in Engels probeer weergee, en hulle maak soveel foute!😳Ewe skielik sukkel ek baie! Selfs die rubrics help nie genoeg nie???


      • Ek dink WAT hulle skryf is meer belangrik as die foute wat hulle begaan. Foute kan hulle later leer om reg te maak. Op hierdie stadium is dit wonderlik dat hulle emosies kan beskryf in ‘n taal wat nie hul eie is nie.


  1. You have a sound approach, Anne. I don’t even rate that anonymous marker’s writing. As a Social Work student supervisor I was required to comment on “process recordings” of interviews. One student once said “You haven’t written anything on it”. I had – every comment was positive. 🙂 That gave me something to work with.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You are being rather harsh on yourself, Anne. I can’t help feeling that for many children to receive an apology – and thus an admission of fallibility – from a teacher would be unheard of!


  3. It would have been very hard for me to have a whole classroom full of students to help with their writing. I put a lot of time into teaching my children, and they were not all five requiring intensive tutoring at once. I can’t imagine a situation more ripe for self-condemnation, because I’d never have been able to give the ideal level of instruction.

    If as a student I’d received that anonymous comment above from my teacher, I would have been disappointed. I was disappointed with actual teachers I did have, knowing at the same time that like this one, they were trying to be positive. Those several sentences show a good effort to say *something* when one doesn’t have much to say.


    • I empathise with your point of view. It is possible that I devoted so much time to making what I hoped would be helpful comments because I received so few from my school teachers. On the positive side, I developed lasting relationships with many of my pupils as a result of both written and spoken interactions with them.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I could never have done your job Anne, but I remember having some praise from grade school teachers on my early writing assignments and getting positive feedback and encouragement, so never underestimate any praise from a teacher! I wonder if they even comment anymore from lack of time and everything being on computer and some school boards not even teaching cursive writing. I had one particularly good teacher in grades 4,5 and 6 who grilled us in the fundamentals of grammar and spelling etc at an age where those basics are so important and I have never forgotten her. I should blog about her someday, as she was a very classy lady and made a big impression on me.


    • It is true that teachers can feel so burdened by the pressures placed on them that we do not necessarily recognise the impression we might have on those we teach. I was often reminded of this when reading notes of appreciation from boys and girls once they had reached the end of their secondary schooling. I have found many of these to be heart-warming indeed.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great idea to abandon the red pen and crosses. I heartily agree that comments make a huge impression on learners.
    I understand your reluctance to clear away those lesson notes etc – so much has gone onto it all. But just think of all those children who benefitted from your excellent teaching and caring. A noble profession indeed.


  6. As a child, I don’t remember ever having got a helpful piece of written marking from a teacher and as a result, I never felt very strongly about marking children’s written work. Talking to children about their work was more useful, I thought.


    • What I really enjoyed in the latter years of my career was teaching Advanced Programme English, during which we held a number of robust debates about issues. Several participants of that programme have commented afterwards how useful it had been as a preparation for university in terms of voicing their opinions and having to defend them. In this case, talking was so much better than relying on marking.


  7. Leaving a positive review is so important. I compare it to the time to receive a letter that brings some good news.
    On the other hand I like the calligraphy of the words written with blue in the photo. The shape of the lyrics or that for a small space remain open. Very nice post.


  8. Being a caring and responsive teacher must be very demanding but so worth it. Although most of my school teachers were diligent in their own ways, there are a particular few who made a special connection and these teachers I am grateful to and value to this day. I am sure you are remembered appreciatively by many of your pupils.
    I am with you in your critique of the red-pen comment you came across amongst your papers.


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